Imagine wanting to paint a picture using the most vibrant colors possible.
You take your bold paint color and add water, with the belief that the water will hold the "memory" of the color and each additional dilution intensifies it. After repeating the process several times, you finally dip your brush in the liquid and begin to create the masterpiece.
Much to your surprise, the only thing you have at the end is a colorless, wet canvas.
While this seems like a pretty ridiculous scenario, that's essentially how homeopathic remedies are created and marketed. An active ingredient that could produce the desired effect is diluted several times over and then sold as a potent remedy. The biggest problem with this, of course, is that "dilution" and "concentration" are opposites of each other. By definition, something that has been diluted has been weakened and lessened.
Homeopathy may have seemed sensible when it was developed in the 18th century, as medicine at the time still heavily relied on leeches and blood-letting to rid the body of the bad blood that was causing illness. As medicine became more evidence-based, doctors and scientists began to reject homeopathy and other superstitious treatments because of one simple fact: it has repeatedly been shown not to work.
A recent blog entry in The BMJ by professor and physician Paul Glasziou reaffirms this fact, as data from over 175 different studies have shown that for 68 different illnesses, homeopathic treatments were effective for zero of them. Though he began the investigation with an open mind, the truth became clear.
"I had begun the journey with an 'I don't know' attitude, curious about whether this unlikely treatment could ever work," Glasziou wrote. "Still, who would have believed that bacteria caused peptic ulcers, or that vaccines for cancers would become routine. So just maybe.…but I lost interest after looking at the 57 systematic reviews (on 68 conditions) which contained 176 individual studies and finding no discernible convincing effects beyond placebo."
This placebo effect is precisely why some people do report feeling better after taking these "treatments." The fact that they got better is anecdotal; there isn't any evidence that the homeopathic pills did anything.
Homeopathy is coming back in vogue in large part due to decreasing scientific literacy among the public. There are fearmongers who prey on this and spread misinformation about scary-sounding chemicals. They then tout these as "natural" treatments, which are not regulated by the FDA and contain no active ingredients. The payout for this swindling is incredible, as it is over a $6 billion per year industry.
Even though homeopathy treatments don't have any medicinal qualities, they can be incredibly dangerous. For someone with a serious illness, leaning on unproven supplements can take away precious time to receive actual treatment. This wasted time allows cancer to spread or HIV to advance to AIDS. Infections get more severe. People die.
For some, taking homeopathic pills makes them feel good and in touch with the Earth for eschewing man-made pharmaceuticals. But the cold hard truth is that they do not work and no amount of anti-science propaganda will make them a viable treatment. Because faith in these placebos can literally be the difference between life and death, it's time to get rid of them once and for all.
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